Standing behind a table in Dwight Hall, Perkins School for the Blind Secondary Program student Cullen, 19, pointed to a row of test tubes filled with different colored liquids. One was blue, another was red and the final tube was clear.
“I used a technique called chromatography to separate the dyes in grape soda,” he explained. “Surprisingly, it actually worked.”
Teachers, students and staff listened as Cullen described his experiment, which he conducted as part of Perkins’ Annual Science Fair. Now in its 11th year, the fair gives students across all Perkins programs a chance to share what they’ve learned in science class, just as their sighted peers do in public high schools across the country.
For this year’s fair, students worked individually or in groups to choose or design an experiment related to energy. One group used baking soda and vinegar to launch homemade rockets, while another explored how popcorn kernels pop.
Secondary Program student Bella, 17, took an environmental approach, researching the lingering effects of the 2010 BP oil spill on marsh snails in the Gulf of Mexico.
“What I found was that their shell growth and reproductive system were both affected,” she said. “Their shells got a lot thinner and they didn’t grow as big.”
On her poster, Bella included a photograph of a pelican drenched in oil, as well as her research findings gleaned from conversations with a professor at Savannah State University. On her table, two small aquariums housed tiny freshwater and saltwater snails.
“They are part of the food chain (in the Gulf),” Bella said. “I chose snails because I wanted to show people that the extent of the oil spill went to things as small as snails.”
Bella’s research and presentation impressed the Science Fair judges, earning her a second place medal in the competition. First place went to Secondary Program student Shae, 19, whose experiment tracked the nutritional needs of wild mushrooms.
The goal of the Science Fair is to get kids excited about science, said teacher Kate Fraser, but it also encourages them to work on skills like public speaking and social interaction.
“They need to stand up and talk to people if they’re able, and explain clearly all the parts of what they did,” she said. “It really involves all the skills areas from the Expanded Core Curriculum and the Common Core.” The Expanded Core Curriculum includes essential life lessons specifically designed for students with visual impairment.
Secondary Program student Anicia, 19, received an honorable mention for her project, “Peas and Genes,” in which she sought to extract DNA strands from split peas using a blender and household ingredients like detergent. Her experiment was a success, and the month-long process reinforced her interest in the study of genetics.
“It was a lot of fun,” she said. “I really like science in general and I like being able to explain it – it makes me feel happy when I can get other people interested, too.”
Students of all abilities and ages participated in the fair. At one table, a student with multiple disabilities used a switch to operate a voice output to answer questions about his group’s experiment on recycled paper. Across the room, two students enthusiastically described their experiment that used baking soda and vinegar to launch a homemade rocket. Another group of eight Lower School students demonstrated how wind energy works.
“The thing about science that’s so wonderful is it’s accessible to everybody,” said Fraser. “Our teaching is totally hands-on.”
Read more about upcoming science-themed Short Courses, like Robotics Weekend and Marine Exploration, available to students with visual impairment enrolled in public schools.